Anxious, threatened, and also unethical: How anxiety makes individuals feel threatened and commit unethical acts

Maryam Kouchaki*, Sreedhari D. Desai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations

Abstract

People often experience anxiety in the workplace. Across 6 studies, we show that anxiety, both induced and measured, can lead to self-interested unethical behavior. In Studies 1 and 2, we find that compared with individuals in a neutral state, anxious individuals are more willing (a) to participate in unethical actions in hypothetical scenarios and (b) to engage in more cheating to make money in situations that require truthful self-reports. In Studies 3 and 4, we explore the psychological mechanism underlying unethical behaviors when experiencing anxiety. We suggest and find that anxiety increases threat perception, which, in turn, results in self-interested unethical behaviors. Study 5 shows that, relative to participants in the neutral condition, anxious individuals find their own unethical actions to be less problematic than similar actions of others. In Study 6, data from subordinate-supervisor dyads demonstrate that experienced anxiety at work is positively related with experienced threat and unethical behavior. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)360-375
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Volume100
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2015

Keywords

  • Anxiety
  • Emotions
  • Ethics
  • Perceived threat
  • Unethical behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology

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